Daisy Rock Heartbreaker

I recently wrote about the Godin Acousticaster featured prominently in the Rock and Roll Love Affair video, so I’ve decided to follow up with some details about the distinctive purple heart shaped guitar that also features in the video – this time in the hands of the stunningly talented Andy Allo.

According to the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book Prince set eyes on this guitar on tour in Japan. But its design originates from a specialist guitar manufacturer based in California called Daisy Rock Guitars. Daisy Rock’s mission statement is simple – to make guitars that encourage girls to pick them up and play.

Daisy Rock’s heart shaped guitar is called the Heartbreaker, and it was made available in two variants: “Debutante” which has a child-sized 22 1/2” scale length; and “Artist” which is a 24 3/4” scale length, much more suitable for adults.

I believe Daisy Rock originally started out making full sized guitars, but quickly adjusted their strategy and focussed on children’s guitars, so I presume that the Artist version pre-dates the smaller Debutante.

The Heartbreaker can be found in several colours – “Princess Purple”; “Pink Heart”; “Red Hot Red”; and “Black Heart” (not pictured). As well as the Artist and Debutante there is also a bass version available.

Both guitars feature a solid Basswood body, which helps to keep them light. Each have bolt on maple necks, with rose wood fingerboards inlayed with pearloid heart shaped fret markers. The larger of the two has a Duncan Designed humbucker pickup at the bridge and a single coil Duncan Designed Lipstick Tube pickup at the neck. These pickups are produced by Seymour Duncan for the mid to low end guitar market, and are manufactured in Korea rather than in the US like their premium range. By contrast The Debutante has a single unbranded humbucker.

In the video Andy is holding the Heartbreaker Debutante version.

For adult hands the Debutante is just too small to be comfortable. Given the lack of practicality, I presume that its appearance in the RnR Love Affair video is as a funky prop rather than an instrument that Andy Allo actually played. Inspection of tour footage and photos from the Welcome 2 America Tour (European leg) during which Andy joined Prince and the NPG there is no evidence of the guitar making an appearance.

The guitar featured in the Paisley Park Guitar and Bass book is the larger Artist model, easily identified by the additional neck pickup. It is much more comfortable to play, with the slight issue that the body of the guitar tends to easily slip off the players knee when playing seated.

Photos taken at Paisley Park show both versions of the Heartbreaker present in April 2016 – one in the instrument store room and another hanging on the wall of one of the studios. The Heartbreaker has since been put on display at Paisley Park, presented together with the Godin Acousticaster, transparent drum kit and Prince’s outfit from the Rock and Roll Love Affair video (photos from County Carver Sheriff’s Office)

Purple Heartbreakers rarely come up for sale on eBay and other sites, finding them takes perseverance. But when they do it is possible to pick them up for a bargain price as they are not commonly associated with Prince. This makes them perfect for collectors on a budget.

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Custom Gold Fender Stratocaster

When I think of Prince at the mic stand with a guitar strapped across his body, I rarely think of Prince with a Stratocaster. But his love affair with Strats extended from 2003 to 2011, starting with the custom blue Strat, and ending with him regularly playing a collection of them – in Red, Orange, Purple, and the most recognisable of all – this custom Gold Stratocaster.

The luthier that created the Gold Stratocaster is Belarussian Fender master builder Yuriy Shishkov. He has recounted the story both in press interviews and via his Instagram account. According to Yuriy he had a dream of creating a guitar completely covered in gold leaf, but who would ever want such a gaudy guitar?  Later, and completely co-incidentally he was approached by one of the Fender’s sales reps, who asked him if he could create such an instrument for Prince.

Yuryi has shared some very high quality photos of the guitar in his workshop they are worth checking out.

The guitar appeared on the cover of the tour programme for his 21 night residency at the LA Forum in April and May 2011, and on advertisements for various tour dates in the US and Europe. Prince was apparently very happy with his extraordinarily unique instrument.

But given the craftwork that went into the guitar (and presumably the $$$$ too), its life was short-lived. In April 2011 the guitar was auctioned for charity, raising $100,000 for the charity Harlem Children’s Zone. The buyer was Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, although sadly I can’t find any photos of Lewis with his guitar.

On 13th April 2011 Prince was asked about the upcoming auction during an interview segment on Lopez Tonight, during which he pulls out the guitar and says how much he will miss it. But there’s a problem…the guitar now appears to have been fitted with a Floyd Rose tremolo, just like his Blue Strat. I guess there are a couple of possibilities here. Either it’s a prop and not the same guitar… or the real Gold Strat had a Floyd Rose fitted before it was auctioned. I can’t find any other evidence of Prince with a Gold Strat fitted with a FR tremolo. It could be possible that Prince put his beloved instrument up for auction because, now fitted with the trem, it was no longer meeting his needs.

Unless we see a photo of the guitar that Lewis Hamilton actually bought, we may never know if this was a prop or not. I haven’t seen a second Gold Strat at Paisley Park or displayed on the My Name Is Prince tour. If you have an answer please do let me know.

[UPDATE May 2019: I have just returned from attending Celebration at Paisley Park, where they did display a Gold Strat in Studio A – in a small display called Suits and Strats. This Gold Strat was not fitted with a tremolo, so I suspect that it is the same guitar that Prince used, and that the guitar sold to Lewis Hamilton had the Floyd Rose fitted. Until we see a photo of the guitar that was sold at auction, we will never know for sure]

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Blue Stratocaster

During the 2007 Superbowl half-time show Prince played three guitars. He started with his trusty Madcat, and ended with his purple symbol guitar. In between, he performed All Along The Watch Tower and the Foo Fighters’ “Best of You” with this light blue Stratocaster. It wasn’t the first time Prince was seen with this guitar – he also used it in the summer of 2006, most notably at Bryant Park, New York – which was part of the Good Morning America concert series. There are dozens of photos of that event here.

Prince was also seen playing this guitar on Saturday Night Live in February 2006 – it was his guitar of choice for a short period in the run up to Superbowl where it became water damaged. That damage didn’t render it unplayable, it made another appearance in June 2007 when Prince performed with Sheila E. at the ALMA awards.

2007 will long be remembered for Prince’s 21 night residency in London. He rocked the O2 arena playing the same combination of guitars as at the Superbowl, which included this Strat. The latest video footage I can find of Prince with this guitar is on the Jay Leno show on the 26th March 2009.

Paisley Park’s twitter post featuring the blue Stratocaster

Continue reading “Blue Stratocaster”

The last guitar Prince played

For reasons that may never be revealed, Prince was not playing guitar in the final months before he died. Some have speculated that the weight of the guitar on his shoulders and back was causing some pain, others have said that he was suffering from pain in his hands. The Piano & A Microphone tour was entirely focused on, well, his voice and his piano accompaniment. During his DJ party at Paisley Park on 17th April 2016 Prince showed off his latest custom made guitar but said that he couldn’t play it at the moment because he needed to concentrate on his piano playing.

All this means that possibly the last guitar Prince ever played, and certainly the last one he played in public, was this unlikely instrument – a white Collings 290. It was owned by Steve Morgan, a luthier in a guitar store in St. Paul, Minnesota. Steve was playing with a band at a Ray Charles tribute event at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatre on March 12th 2016, and Prince was in attendance.

Prince made his way to the stage and after a quick discussion with Steve, he asked to take the Collings 290, he played along with the band, and then left the stage as quickly as he arrived.

Mick Sterling, producer of the Ray Charles show recalled to the BBC:

“We’re playing, and the piano player Scottie Miller is doing a great solo. All of a sudden I hear a guitar, and I’m thinking it’s our guitar player Steve Morgan, but it’s not. Then I look … and there’s Prince, playing the solo. You know, Prince can play any style, but he played this beautiful, lots of space blues, and it was perfect. He just kept playing the solo, so as the bandleader I’m saying ‘keep going, keep going … you know, as long as you wanna go, Prince.'”

The Collings is a strange choice for Prince, especially given that there was a spare Telecaster on the stage. My guess he chose it because Steve Morgan has been playing it – so it was plugged in and tuned up, and meant Prince could enter with the minimum of fuss.

The Collings 290 is not a cheap guitar at close to $3000.  It has a solid Mahogany body and P90 pickups as standard, although it looks like Steve Morgan may have changed the pickups in his. The high cost is apparently justified due to the quality of the electrics. Although $3k may be out of reach for some musicians, it’s not an unreasonable price to pay for a guitar…….until that is, Prince picks up and plays it. This guitar has been listed for auction with a guide price of $60k – $80k. At the time of writing the bid is at $47k.

I can understand paying a high price for a guitar Prince owned – but a guitar that he picked up and played for a few minutes?

[update] The Collings final selling price was $156,250

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The MadCat

Outside of the Prince fan community, he is most associated with his iconic Cloud and Symbol shaped guitars.  However, it is the Madcat that Prince fans often most revere.

At the dawn of his career Prince was seen with a variety of guitars, including a Gibson L6S in early videos & TV performances, and a Fender Telecaster on his first tour. There are conflicting stories about where Prince acquired this cheap Telecaster copy, known as the MadCat.  The most popular belief is that it was at a gas station, but some accounts suggest it came from the Knut Koupee Guitar shop in Minneapolis. Either way it quickly became his primary axe, and today bears the battle scars of a well used, well loved guitar.

The MadCat was originally made in Japan by H.S. Anderson in the 1970s. It was produced under three different company logos – H.S. Anderson, Hohner, and Bill Lawrence.  Prince bought the Hohner version (which was exactly the same as the H.S. Anderson, except with a Hohner logo in the same pearloid effect lettering as used by H.S. Anderson).

The body was made from a central strip of walnut, Japanese sen (similar to ash) sides, and a flame maple top.  It was fitted with leopard skin pattern scratch plate, a Strat style bridge, and the headstock was reminiscent of the classic Fender shape.

Photos appear to indicate that he started playing it regularly in 1981. Once he found success Prince had several copies made, including modified versions that were used to spray the audience during the Purple Rain tour in ’84/’85. It is impossible to determine if the one now displayed at Paisley Park is the original model, but based on the patterns of wear to the body it is definitely the one that Prince was using during the most recent years, which includes at the Super Bowl half time show in 2007, and the performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps at the RnR Hall of Fame in 2004.

There have been many re-issues of this iconic guitar over the years, including from Hohner and the original builder.

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According to the Paisley Park Tour Guitar and Bass book, Prince paid $30 for this guitar. Today it is priceless. It is permanently displayed behind glass in the atrium at Paisley Park.

 

 

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Paisley Park payed tribute to the Madcat in a tweet in 2017